This is the third question in the #Teach2Teach series, a collaboration with Amy Lenord (@alenord) and Karen Tharrington, Foreign Language Education Program Coordinator at North Carolina State University. After finding out her pre-service education students were nervous about engaging in the #langchat conversation with their own comments and questions Amy encouraged her to have them submit questions to share with the world.
Question 3 comes from Jennifer who has asked a tough question, but one that every teacher has an answer to no matter what content area they teach. Jennifer asked…”What has been your most troublesome experience with teaching and how did you handle it?”
I thought a lot about this question and what my answer would be. There were the fleeting thoughts to blog about the time before I started using carefully constructed rubrics that I awarded a student 19/20 and couldn’t tell her why she lost the mark. Then there was the moment when I reminded a veteran teacher – in front of his student teacher – about something and he took it to be my embarrassing him in front of his new charge. But the more I thought the more I realized the most troubling experience I have had teaching is that moment when I realized that ‘how’ I was approaching second language education in my classes was not what I thought it should be. That moment when I realized that I was spending more time teaching – discreetly and overtly and mainly – grammar. That I was pushing my students to learn reams of vocabulary that were not relevant to them – because they were in the book. And that communication, risk and personal responsibility for learning were lacking in my classroom.
I’ve written several times that I was the “get the perfect textbook/workbook program and you’re done!” kind of teacher. I remember being in my principal’s office begging for funds because ” if I got this program I’d never have to get another one again!” Along with the text/workbook reliance I was someone who was highly skilled at teaching Japanese – or rather teaching about Japanese. My students were drilled and coached to perfection. But the reliance was on writing – and if your writing was poor your chances of success in my class were too. Moreover if your brain didn’t work like I taught – good luck. It was a happy place for me – I had everything set – and then suddenly it wasn’t.
I don’t know quite when I became so troubled about HOW I was teaching – I don’t recall a moment in time when the feeling suddenly occurred. But I do remember going into my principal’s office and telling him that after 14 years of teaching I was bored. “I think that I am done” I told him. “I have no motivation, I can’t get hyped up about my lessons, I’m just going through the motions.”. He was really encouraging – and urged me to think about my classroom and try to identify what it was that was making me so – well – bored about what was happening. At the same time I stumbled upon #langchat on twitter. The more I lurked then participated the more I realized that I wasn’t bored..okay I was…but rather that somewhere inside I was realizing that I didn’t like my tightly bundled program. That I was spending more time teaching about things than challenging students to use what they were learning. That my classroom was way too focused on what I wanted my students to learn and not enough on what they wanted to do. And so I began to change it up. My most troubling experience was that I was not the teacher, leader, coach that I wanted to be….
The more I reflect the more I think that my troubling time came as I evolved and grew as a teacher. That it came about because I was well into my career when I had been ‘in the business’ for a number of years. That there comes a point I think in any career where you make a decision to grow – or hopefully go. I’m glad that my decision was to move forward – acting upon what was so unsettling to me – a journey that I love and am still on today.